My family and I are on a mission to visit every state park in Georgia, one a month, until we have explored the ins-and-outs of each one. Each quarter over the next year, we’ll share with you a sample from our diaries on this journey. May you be encouraged to explore the hundreds of thousands of acres that make Georgia beautiful.
January 27 – Don Carter State Park in Gainesville, Georgia
They are calling for snow tomorrow, but today I am thankful for the 60-degree weather and the opportunity to dip my toes into Lake Lanier. The beach is deserted now, but the sand is warm and the sun is glistening off the water. I’m sitting on a bench, rocking, as I watch the boys play at the playground. I wonder how difficult it will be to persuade them to go hiking with me. There is a 1.5-mile paved trail, and a 1-mile natural hiking trail. I spoke to the ranger earlier, and he indicated they are already making headway on additional trails, as well. With the playgrounds, the beach and bathhouse, trails, campsites, and boat docks, there is evidence of significant progress at this newest state park.
We’re staying in a cottage tonight; the vast back-porch faces the lake, and I can already hear the rocking chairs calling my name. The kitchen and dining room are expansive, and with two bedrooms, sleeping up to eight people, I’m wishing we had invited friends to come with us. The boys will want to build a fire off the deck tonight, but I am looking forward to the warmth of the cast iron stove that sits in the living room. This cottage will make a great place to hold out if the predicted “snowpocalypse” comes to fruition.
February 17 – Smithgall Woods State Park in Helen, Georgia
Speechless. That is how I feel right now. I’m sitting on the deck of our gorgeous three-bedroom cottage, which butts against Dukes Creek. I can hear the water racing over large moss-covered boulders. The trees tower hundreds of feet above my head and create a canopy that holds the temperature at a good five to ten degrees colder than it is outside the park. The dense shade creates a special home for ferns, unique wildflowers, and enormous river trout. Rhododendrons, larger than my truck, dot the riverbank, and I can glimpse their buds beginning to form. The sun is setting, the temperature is dropping, and the fireplace roars inside the cottage, but I cannot move. The beauty of this park captivates me. I want to take in every leaf, every boulder, and every sound.
The boys are asleep now. The excitement of the day made this task more difficult than usual. Tucked into their warm beds, we reminisced about our earlier hike to Duke’s Creek Falls. It was warm enough to hike without a jacket, but we met snow at the top of the trail. It blanketed the mountain like a thin veil. The falls reached over 200-feet tall, and dropped with such force that we had to yell in order to hear each other speak. But mostly, we were quiet. Together.
March 3 – Richard B Russell State Park in Elberton, Georgia
“Frisbee Golf!!!” the wee ones exclaimed as we drove in this evening. I’m delighted at how much there is to do at this park. There is a beautiful disc golf course, bike rentals, boat rentals (pontoon, canoe, and paddle,) playgrounds, hiking, and an 18-hole golf course. The beach was closed today, but we longingly gazed at it from the playground, wishing spring would hurry herself along. The highlight of our day was visiting the Rowing Center, which served as a training facility during the Olympics. We watched as several men hoisted their racing shell into the water and skimmed the lake like an oversized heron. It was our first experience with rowing, and we were mesmerized by the size and grace.
Tonight we are staying in a cottage in the park, on Lake Richard Russell. It’s too cold for the beach, but too warm to light a fire in the fireplace. I’m sitting on the screened-in porch, admiring the orange sky’s reflection in the water. The sun will rise over this cove in the morning, and I will be back in this rocking chair, coffee in hand. Now, I’ll join the boys by the outdoor firepit and roast up the last marshmallow of winter.